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MH17 trial told Australian police were ‘hacked by Russian spies’

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

A Dutch court has heard witnesses of the fatal MH17 shooting disaster fear for their lives amid the threat of Russian separatists executing them for handing over photographic and video evidence.

Russian spies likely hacked into and leaked an Australian police report as part of a disinformation campaign to cover up Russia's involvement in the downing of MH17, Dutch prosecutors say.

The trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian over the murder of 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines flight, including 38 who called Australia home, is under way in the Netherlands.

Prosecutor Dedy Woei-A-Tsoi accused Russia of mounting a disinformation campaign in the wake of the disaster, and said Russian Federal Services Bureau agents had been at the missile launch site in Ukraine the day MH17 was shot down, according to a witness.

"He (the witness) recognised ... that Russian military personnel were present with the Buk (missile launcher) and that he heard from his companions that people from the FSB were present at the shooting down of the aeroplane," Woei-A-Tsoi told the court in Schiphol on Tuesday.

Woei-A-Tsoi said the Russian military intelligence (GRU) probably hacked the Australian Federal Police to aid their disinformation campaign.

A Russian-linked website obtained a leaked AFP report on the missile launcher in February, but only published selected sections, the prosecutor said.

In the report, Australian officers initially discussed whether the photos of the Buk-TELAR missile launcher were manipulated, but later corroborated their authenticity with the help of video footage.

Woei-A-Tsoi said the website selectively published only parts of the report "not to share information in a responsible, journalistic manner, but rather to spread disinformation".

"We must take into account the possibility that the published documents were obtained following a successful GRU hacking operation," she said.

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AFP Detective-Superintendent David Nelson confirmed his officers had stepped up IT security since the documents were released, adding that the disinformation campaign was not helpful to the victims' next of kin.

MH17 five year anniversary

"I don't think it assists their grieving and ability to follow the trial and know what the facts are," he said.

Bryan Clancy, who lost his brother Michael and sister-in-law Carol on MH17, said Russia had gone to unbelievable lengths to avoid scrutiny.

"They're murderers and they're trying to cover their tracks," he said.

Sydneysider Jon O'Brien, whose 25-year-old son Jack died on MH17, said the evidence made Russian claims about the disaster appear "empty and ludicrous".

"It's a bit embarrassing on one level, if it wasn't so offensive and had such a malicious intent," he said.

Witnesses 'fear for their lives'

A Russian man accused in the MH17 disaster is trying to reveal the names of people who fear for their lives after witnessing the crash in Ukraine, a Dutch court has heard.

Oleg Pulatov is being tried in absentia in the Netherlands along with two other Russians and a Ukrainian for murder and the destruction of a civilian airliner over the crash, which killed 298 people in July 2014.

Prosecutor Thijs Berger says people saw the crash or had taken photos of the Buk-TELAR launcher and the condensation trail left in the sky by the missile.

MH17 five year anniversary

"Every effort (has been) made to find people who took photos and videos and interview them as witnesses ... some interviewed people were present or disseminated material online," he told the court at the Schiphol Justice Complex on Tuesday.

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"Whenever possible the camera in question, including the memory card, was seized and handed over to the Netherlands Forensic Institute."

Berger said some people were interviewed anonymously to prevent them "running undue risk".

But defendant Pulatov had in late January lodged an appeal against granting anonymity to threatened witnesses.

The prosecutor said some of those witnesses had family living in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed forces "under a rule of violence".

He said there was recent evidence separatist fighters had "discussed having the green light from Moscow to execute somebody".

Multiple witnesses told Dutch investigators they feared for the lives if their names got out.

"If my name does become known I may have problems," said Berger, quoting one witness.

"What I mean is that I may be picked up by Russian special services."

MH17 five year anniversary

Berger explained that witnesses abroad also faced a risk from the Russian intelligence services, who had been recently accused of murders in the UK, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria.

"Seen as whole this information casts a dark shadow over these proceedings," he said.

The court is set to examine evidence including forensics performed on the bodies and wreckage, hundreds of interviews, telecommunications data, satellite data, photos and videos.

Berger said the case file was almost complete, with only a small number of interviews, including a Ukrainian witness, left to be done.

'Russian intelligence members were at shooting site'

Meanwhile, the trial also heard today that Russian intelligence service members were at the exact spot where a missile was fired at MH17.

A statement by witness M58, who was serving in the Russian forces at the time of the incident, was read in court that said Russian government agents from the Federal Services Bureau were at Snizhne with the Buk-TELAR launcher at the moment the deadly strike happened.

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"Those present were initially pleased because they were told that a military aircraft had been shot down," said prosecutor Dedy Woei-A-Tsoi, reading the witness statement at the Schiphol Justice Complex on Tuesday.

"When the first people returned from the crash site, however, they were told that a civilian aircraft had been shot down."

The trial has been adjourned until March 23.

Source: 9News

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